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First measles case confirmed in a King County resident this year

Seattle Times - 6/17/2024

Jun. 14—Local public health officials have confirmed the first measles case of the year in a King County resident.

The infected child was at a Virginia Mason Franciscan Health urgent care center in West Seattle on Monday, according to a Friday post from Public Health — Seattle & King County. Anyone who was at the facility (located at 4755 Fauntleroy Way S.W.) between 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. that day might have been exposed to measles, the department said.

The child was not vaccinated with the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot and had traveled internationally, said Dr. Eric Chow, the county's chief of communicable diseases.

"While this is our first case, I think it's also important to acknowledge that measles exposures can still occur," Chow said.

If you were in the Franciscan urgent care center at that time, public health officials recommended the following steps:

* Find out from a health care provider if you have been vaccinated for measles or have had measles previously.

* Call your provider if you develop a fever or rash. To avoid possibly spreading measles to others, do not go to a clinic or hospital without calling first. Try to limit contact with others.

* Ask your provider about vaccination or medication after exposure.

Measles is very contagious and mainly spreads after an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can cause fever, rash, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes and can lead to ear infections, diarrhea and pneumonia, according to public health officials.

Those at highest risk of measles complications include infants and children under 5, adults over 20, pregnant people and people with weakened immune systems from medications or underlying conditions.

Most people in the region have immunity through vaccination, so the risk to the general public is low. Still, Chow emphasized a growing need to double down on MMR vaccinations as infections have spiked in places throughout the world this year. Nearly all U.S. cases so far are related to unvaccinated travelers, The New York Times reported in March.

Since the pandemic began, vaccination coverage rates among King County kindergartners have also dropped, Chow said. During the 2021-2022 school year, 94% of kindergartners were vaccinated, compared to 92% during the 2023-2024 year.

"People see those numbers and think, 'Wow, that's really high,'" Chow said. "Yes, and also — measles is incredibly infectious. So we're trying to get as high as we can."

Those general numbers also don't reflect the pockets with lower vaccination rates, particularly in certain schools. Some schools have vaccination rates as low as 36%, Chow said.

"That leaves them incredibly vulnerable to measles infections in those spaces, even if the general community vaccination rates are higher," he said.

Fortunately, Chow said, measles vaccines are very effective and provide lifelong immunity. According to the CDC, two doses of the MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles.

Public Health — Seattle & King County also identified another measles case at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at the end of May. The infected person lived in Arizona and their vaccine status was unknown, though they were likely exposed to the virus while traveling through Europe, according to public health officials.

Chow urged travelers to take a moment this summer and think about potential health care needs while planning for trips. Do you need an MMR vaccine? COVID shot? Malaria medication? He encouraged checking public health notices of places you're planning to go — which often include recommended vaccines and potential precautions — especially if traveling internationally.

"That's where the risk comes about," he said.

Material from The Seattle Times archives was included in this report.

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